By TANYA SMITH-CARTWRIGHT
A representative from the CARICOM Reparations Commission said it is time for the Church of England to join the discussion on reparations.
The group is also calling for a “reparations summit” as phase two of the exit of colonialism for Caribbean countries. This was announced by Sir Hilary Beckles, chairman of the CARICOM Reparations Commission and vice chancellor of UWI yesterday.
Sir Hilary was a panelist at a media engagement held by the CARICOM Reparations Commission and University of the West Indies which was set to update regional and international media on recent developments in the region’s push for reparatory justice for the historical crimes of native genocide and African enslavement in the Caribbean region.
This comes in the wake of recent public statements of “apology” and “regret” by some European states and a number of British commercial enterprises for their role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade and in the 200-plus years’ practice of chattel slavery, the group said.
Sir Hilary noted that the Church of England, which owned enslaved Africans in the Caribbean, branded its slaves on their chests.
“It is also the Church of England’s time to join civil society’s conversation about reparations for development,” Sir Hilary continued. “This is how we imagined this conference can be organised – an inter-governmental, civil society summit so that we can move into phase two of our exit from colonialism.”
In 2006, the Church of England voted to apologise to the descendants of victims of the slave trade. An amendment “recognising the damage done” to those enslaved was backed overwhelmingly by the General Synod, BBC reported at the time.
Sir Hilary said yesterday: “Apologies are not enough. Apologies are precursors for reparations. Apologies are signals of an intent to participate in a reparatory process. Apologies are stage one of an effort that says, ‘we acknowledge the harm that we have caused and we are prepared to enter phase two which is a discussion and a negotiation about how to repair that harm and suffering that continues to be the legacy in the Caribbean today.’”
He also said that the colonial “mess” that Caribbean nations have inherited from Britain and Europe remains visible in every aspect of the Caribbean world today.
“Britain and Europe chose to walk away from this mess that they have created,” Sir Hilary continued. “They have left it entirely to the democratic leadership of Caribbean governments and civil society. This was a deliberate and strategic effort, to walk away and refuse to take the responsibility for the legacies and slavery and colonisation. The model which was used by Britain at the moment of the ending of colonisation, was that Britain should exit colonisation and its legacies on the cheap. That they should exit without responsibility; that they should walk away and not look back.
“The theory emerging from the British government and many other governments in Europe, is that those who continue to suffer and experience the harm from colonisation and slavery, should move on and get over it. The Caribbean governments have done well in confronting this legacy of harm and taking responsibility for cleaning up this mess, but the fact of the matter is that the inherited legacy has overwhelmed the best and greatest intentions of our civil societies and our governments.”
He said billions of dollars are spent in this region each year dealing with the consequences and the legacies of an enforced diet of sugar and salt to which the people of this region are addicted. Black people in the Caribbean, he said, are the sickest people in the world, because of the direct consequence of slavery.
Speaking of plans for the summit, he said: “The meeting and summit should be over three days, to discuss how to honour this debt owed to the Caribbean at this moment in history. Day one will be a conversation between the governments. Day two in which there will be a conversation with the private sector. We have heard of late of major private sector that have emerged out of slavery, that emerged out of colonization that were enriched by the crimes against humanity with issues and comments of regret. The major institutions in the city of London, for example, have all made their statements. Time has come now to move to that summit with these major institutions to discuss their contribution to a development plan for the Caribbean.
“Day three will be where civil society institutions and individuals. Most of the universities of Europe participated in the enrichment from slavery. Some of the universities are now ready to discuss this legacy and to allocate resources for research for collective action.”